January 24, 2012

Soapbox: A veteran's perspective: Make Fort Ord a national monument

The men and women who serve in our Armed Forces travel around the globe, often to the most challenging conditions that can be imagined. Wherever we go, images and memories from back home sustain us during these times away from our families.

For many men and women in uniform, our country's national monuments - from the Statue of Liberty in New York to Muir Woods in California - are the images that come to mind of the America we serve to protect.

Recently, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar visited Fort Ord in Monterey and expressed an interest in exploring ways to protect this historic site. As an Army veteran of the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, I strongly support the designation of Fort Ord as a national monument.

Fort Ord is an important part of our country's military history, with a role that stretches back almost 100 years. Established in 1917, generations of Americans served at Fort Ord - with regiments fighting in World War II and protecting California's coastline after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Today, Fort Ord is a crown jewel overlooking Monterey and a place that provides many benefits to the local community and visitors from throughout the state.

Fort Ord's 86 miles of trails offer a serene and beautiful getaway for families, hikers, mountain-bike riders, horseback riders and many more. Hundreds of students visit Fort Ord each year, learning about the great outdoors in an inspirational classroom. And for the past 21 years, the Sea Otter Classic - a four-day cycling event that includes routes through Fort Ord - has drawn tens of thousands to the area.

Fort Ord is a place that - generations from now - Californians will continue to enjoy and visit if we have the foresight to set aside and protect this land as a national monument.

The designation of Fort Ord as a national monument will also benefit the local economy in a way that's more than symbolic. For an example of this, look no further than Fort Monroe in Virginia, the newest national monument.

Last year, the president designated this historically significant Army base to be a national monument after a local grassroots effort lobbied for the fort's protection. Now, the preservation of buildings and landscapes around Fort Monroe is estimated to create nearly 3,000 jobs in the state.

A monument designation at Fort Ord would mean jobs, a boost to our state's economy, and the preservation of a natural treasure for generations to come. I ask the president to look no further than Fort Ord for our country's next national monument. Let Fort Ord be a beacon that shines round the world as a symbol of the country I served.

ª Mark Starr is the program director for the Vet Voice Foundation. He is a veteran of the Persian Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom. In 2004, he was wounded in combat and received a Purple Heart. In 2009, due to his injuries, he was medically retired from the Army. Starr joined Vet Voice Foundation in 2009. For more information, seewww.vetvoicefoundation.org.

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